The development and evolution of insect mouthparts as revealed by the expression patterns of gnathocephalic genes

Evol Dev. Mar-Apr 2002;4(2):96-110. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-142x.2002.01065.x.


To understand better both the development and evolution of insect mouthparts, we have compared the expression pattern of several developmentally important genes in insects with either mandibulate or stylate-haustellate mouthparts. Specifically, we examined the expression of the proboscipedia (pb) and Distal-less (Dll) gene products as well as three regulators of pb, Sex combs reduced (Scr), Deformed (Dfd), and cap 'n' collar (cnc). These genes are known to control the identity of cells in the gnathal segments of Drosophila melanogaster and would appear to have similar conserved functions in other insects. Together we have made an atlas of gene expression in the heads of three insects: Thermobia domestica and Acheta domestica, which likely exemplify the mandibulate mouthparts present in the common insect ancestor, and Oncopeltus fasciatus, which has piercing-sucking mouth parts that are typical of the Hemiptera. At the earliest stages of embryogenesis, only the expression of pb was found to differ dramatically between Oncopeltus and the other insects examined, although significant differences were observed later in development. This difference in pb expression reflects an apparent divergence in the specification of gnathal identity between mandibulate and stylate-haustellate mouthparts, which may result from a "phylogenetic homeosis" that occurred during the evolution of the Hemiptera.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Drosophila Proteins / genetics
  • Genes, Homeobox*
  • Homeodomain Proteins / genetics
  • Insect Proteins / genetics
  • Insecta / anatomy & histology
  • Insecta / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Mouth
  • Phylogeny
  • Repressor Proteins / genetics
  • Sequence Alignment
  • Transcription Factors / genetics


  • Dfd protein, Drosophila
  • Drosophila Proteins
  • Homeodomain Proteins
  • Insect Proteins
  • Repressor Proteins
  • Scr protein, Drosophila
  • Transcription Factors
  • cnc protein, Drosophila
  • distal-less protein, insect
  • pb protein, Drosophila